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The Curious Conversion of Thomas Chalmers

John D. Clayton

Thomas Chalmers was arguably the most popular Scot and influential churchman of his age. However, when he was first educated, ordained, installed, and serving as a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, he was by his own admission not yet a converted Christian. How could a minister of the gospel not believe the gospel? How this happened is telling of his context, country, and church, but it is not a short story. From a confusion of church and state dating back to the Scottish Reformation to an increasing secularism in and through the Scottish Enlightenment, the Church of Scotland moved increasingly away from its Reformation roots and the necessity of the gospel in Christian conversion, as evidenced in the early life of Thomas Chalmers.

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Appendix Six: The Secession of 1733

Extract

APPENDIX SIX

The Secession of 1733

By 1733, a number of ministers, elders, and congregations believed that the Kirk had strayed from its Confession and constitution and no longer rightly represented a national Kirk. This concern was enhanced by the on-going influence of patronage and the General Assembly’s position on The Marrow,1 as well as concerns over preaching, ministerial qualifications, and unorthodox teaching in the divinity schools. While it is possible that the seeds for secession were planted as early as John Simson’s trial before the General Assembly in 1720, the impetus was eleven years later.

In 1731, the General Assembly considered an overture further deteriorating presbytery involvement in ministerial approval, undermining the assembly’s Act of 1690 by transferring authority to local elders and heritors as well as magistrates and town councils,2 essentially dismantling the role of the congregation and members of the Kirk in the process of ministerial qualification and appointment. Despite objection from a majority of presbyteries, the General Assembly of 1732 approved and implemented the overture.3 This event was the tipping point of the secession movement, a charge led by Ebenezer Erskine.

EBENEZER ERSKINE AND THE SECESSION

At the General Assembly of 1732, Erskine spoke in objection to the overture, petitioning the assembly to vote against it. It is likely, given Erskine’s soiled reputation from the Marrow controversy, that his petition was doomed to fail, and his fiery personality further alienated him from garnering a...

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